Col. Gary A. Wheeler, U.S. Army Aeromedical Center commander, receives the unit colors from Maj. Gen. Jimmie O. Keenan, Southern Regional Medical Command commanding general, during a change of command ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum June 25. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)
Published: July 7, 2014
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 7, 2014) -- The No. 1-ranked medical facility in U.S. Army Medical Command welcomed a new commander as Fort Rucker bid farewell to one of its most familiar faces.
Col. Gary A. Wheeler assumed command of the U.S. Army Aeromedical Center from Col. James A. Laterza during a change of command ceremony at the U.S Army Aviation Museum June 25.
Maj. Gen. Jimmie O. Keenan, Southern Regional Medical Command commanding general, was on hand to preside over the ceremony and said that Wheeler is the right man to take Lyster Army Health Clinic and continue the excellent patient-centered care that so many on the installation have come to know.
Wheeler is a proven leader, holding numerous leadership positions, including chief of the Department of Medicine for Madigan Army Medical Center and chief information officer for U.S. Army Medical Command.
“Gary is the right guy, at the right time to come into the job,” she said. “(He) is a proven leader, and any job that the Army has asked him to do, he has done.”
Wheeler comes to Fort Rucker with a wealth of experience as a doctor of medicine, as well as a Masters in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.
His military career spans more than two decades when he joined the Army after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkley. His first assignment was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he completed his Internal Medicine residency.
“Little did I realize at the flight surgeons course in the spring of 1990 that I would someday be back here for a full tour of duty,” said Wheeler. “(My Family and I) are absolutely thrilled to make Fort Rucker our home and I’m honored to be part of such a great post, and humbled to take command of such a high performing unit.”
That high-performing unit isn’t made up of just leaders, but everyone on the Lyster team, said Keenan.
“When we talk about (Lyster Army Health Clinic), we’re not just talking about Laterza and the phenomenal job that he’s accomplished in the last two years,” she said. “We’re talking about … all the people that (work at Lyster). It’s the team that makes Lyster.
“It’s not the building, it’s not the bricks or the mortars – it’s the team,” she continued. “What a difference they have made in taking care of America’s sons and daughters.”
That excellence not only shows in the community, but resounds across all of MEDCOM, with LAHC ranking No. 1 out of all hospitals and clinics, said the general.
“Lyster is No. 1 and it’s because of the phenomenal care they give,” she said. “That’s to 17,000 beneficiaries. They take care of their own every single day, and it’s that difference Jim Laterza and his staff has made here. It’s that leadership where he inspires his staff to do more every day. When we look at that in Army medicine, we look at what we can do to improve care.”
Wheeler recognized Laterza’s excellent leadership and said he will do what he can to continue that excellence.
“You have outperformed every medical treatment facility in the southern region for 15 months running,” he said to Laterza and the LAHC staff. “Clearly there’s no challenge too difficult to tackle and overcome with excellence ... and I clearly have huge boots to fill.”
“Today, it’s my great honor to stand before you and relinquish command to Col. Gary Wheeler,” said Laterza during the ceremony. “Many have asked me if I’m ready to go … and there are so many more things that I think I could do in the pursuit of excellence, but I know that the pursuit of excellence is not mine alone.
“I’m excited for Colonel Wheeler, his wife, Wendy, and his Family, as they inherit a great organization – one I love – and become members of this tremendous community,” he said.
Laterza will go on to serve as the European Medical Command chief of staff where he said he hopes to continue to help provide the best patient-centered care.
This article was originally published at http://www.army.mil/article/129543/
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